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BRING ON THE MEN: Building Black Leadership with Marvin Washington

BRING ON THE MEN: Building Black Leadership with Marvin Washington

“I’m trying to help people and everything else will fall behind it, you know what I’m saying?”

We know exactly what Marvin Washington is talking about. The NFL legend’s remarkable achievements in advocacy for racial socioeconomic justice prove that the cannabis industry means so much more than money. As an entrepreneur in the burgeoning space, Vice President of Business Development and board member for the CBD innovator Isodiol, Marvin remains first and foremost an activist. He makes it his mission to fight for just causes, supporting communities in need from fellow athletes seeking medical cannabis treatment (he’s also on the board of the nonprofit Athletes for Care) to creating new opportunities for diversity in business.

Since our earlier profile on Marvin in last year’s CANNABIS issue, he has taken great strides to ensure that African Americans aren’t left in the cold as our nation pushes toward the legalization of cannabis. Above all he wants to see Black men and women empowered in leadership roles across industries, especially in neighborhoods where they can accurately represent the local population.

“If you put dispensaries up in Harlem,” Marvin says, “you’ll see the majority of business there will be minority owned. In that way, you wouldn’t have to worry about participation because you’d be doing it in your own community. The money that is coming in because of the interest of their neighbors will be funneled back into their own community. When we start doing that, then we can make change… by showing minorities running businesses and being successful.”

The social justice playing field definitely needs to be made level. Putting African Americans – who are disproportionately incarcerated due to marijuana possession – at the forefront of new businesses could revitalize countless at-risk communities by introducing jobs and investment incentives.

“Everyone asks, ‘Marvin, why did you get on the board [of Isodiol]?’ [So] I could effect change within the company,” he explains. “Thereby building a cannabis nonprofit… In ten years, in twenty years, this thing is going to be a fully integrated, mainstream industry that will rival the tech industry in terms of profit. We have a chance to ensure that we have a voice, and we need to do that now. We can make a difference by being conscious of diversity, of inclusivity, of the communities that were affected most by Prohibition.”

Today Marvin addresses these issues professionally through his work at Isodiol and more personally, speaking at churches, colleges, and any events that enable people outside the cannabis industry to get educated. He acknowledges that Black women have already developed a dynamic space for themselves as entrepreneurs, pointing to organizations like Women Grow which provide resources and networks to aspiring leaders. However, he distinctly feels the lack of similar platforms for Black men.

“I just think to myself, ‘What’s wrong with having a cannabis-focused organization managed by African American men where we can get together to discuss ideas, and successful techniques in this wonderful industry?” Marvin posits. “That’s my frustration, because it hasn’t happened, but it needs to. I don’t know how we can get there, but I would like to be a part of it.”

One way he suggests bridging the gap is to consider staffing more Black men in already-prominent companies: “There are enough qualified people to be in cannabis, an African American man specifically, we’re not talking about affirmative action… I don’t know how any company could go wrong by having a minority on their board, because if they don’t, it has to be addressed. You have to go out and do it, because that’s what I’ve done. I’ve proven that it’s possible, so there’s no excuse now.”

Many people of color have seen the pitfalls of white cannabis entrepreneurs wanting to profit from minority consumers without allowing them to join in the rewards. In Chris Rock’s stand-up special Never Scared (2004), he verbalized what remains a popular thought to this day: “The first reason they will never legalize weed in America is because the Government makes way too much money putting our brothers and sisters in fucking jail! That’s first of all. For bullshit. The second reason the Government will never legalize weed in America is because, God forbid, some brown people got wealthy. Can’t have that. ‘Cause good weed comes from brown countries!” Legitimizing an enterprise that will very likely stimulate Black wealth is an intimidating prospect for some people, and welcoming in or working alongside people of color in the cannabis industry seems to be an abstract prospect to many white moguls in the business. Marvin is all too aware of that wariness.

He reiterates, “When this plan is brought into the community, it should be led by the people who look like they live [there]. So if you go into Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn or whatever, the cannabis industry owners should look like they live in the community… I think minorities, particularly African Americans in this industry, make a conscious effort to preach to the choir.”

And Marvin should know, as he dubs himself “the biggest cheerleader” for minority participation in cannabis. We are far from seeing equal representation in any industry, let alone one that’s still federally penalized, but opportunities are growing daily. As Marvin and his colleagues work to mentor young entrepreneurs in cannabis and reach out to organizations from 100 Black Men of America to the NAACP to the National Urban League and more, the possible paths to success seem limitless. Call it a winning move by one of our greatest social equity champions

“It’s a collective, and I think we’re all connected,” Marvin notes. “There’s that lift, that power… There are so many wonderful people of color in this community and this industry that I could name… I’m their biggest supporter, and if there is any way that I can help anybody in this community, I will.”